UVA Today Blog

Semester at Sea: Soaking, Singing and Becoming a Shellback

A picture of a man dressed as King Neptune, in green, who presided over the festivities and knighted the new shellbacks with his triton.

Editor’s Note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is on Semester at Sea this spring and has agreed to blog about her experience. Catch up with her previous entries here.

Post-India, we had two full weeks (no weekends) of class at sea in the Indian Ocean. So for about eight hours in the middle of this stretch, we were excited to get off the ship and explore the island nation of Mauritius!

Umbrella's hanging over a lane in Mauritius.But once we arrived, it started pouring rain. So the hanging umbrella lane pictured was one of the only pictures I took, because I frankly spent most of the day taking refuge inside a shopping center close to the ship. Since I had to cancel my beach and hiking plans, my friends and I worked on our movie for the ship’s upcoming 72-hour film festival inside the mall.

Still, through our pre-port lectures, I learned a lot about the island nation. Mauritius is unique in that the Portuguese found it uninhabited in 1507, settled there, and then the island’s ownership was shuffled around several European countries. These non-colonizers brought over a bunch of indentured slaves and laborers, who ended up staying when most of the Europeans hauled out after WWII. Since its independence from the UK in 1968, Mauritius has grown in to a popular vacation destination. With a mix of citizens of mostly Malay and Indian descent, the country has four official languages, and I found that it was a great place to practice my French! Mauritius is also home to the (now extinct) Dodo bird, and has a lovely museum to commemorate this fallen majesty.

I returned to the MV Explorer soaked to the bone, but in the days that followed afterward, SAS put on plenty of awesome events to break up the monotony of classes:

Neptune Day

Whenever a ship crosses the equator, tradition states that the voyagers have a set of initiations to follow in order to turn from ‘polliwog’ status into a ‘shellback.’ I don’t know what these terms mean, but the initiation involved being drenched with blue kool-aid, jumping into the pool and then kissing a dead fish. We were also given the option to shave our heads, which a surprisingly large number of people took up. I don’t really understand it all, but these events happened during our study day and were an overall enjoyable, weird, community-bonding experience.


A picture of a man dressed as King Neptune, in green, who presided over the festivities and knighted the new shellbacks with his triton.

King Neptune, in green, presided over the festivities and knighted the new shellbacks with his triton.

Voyager & Crew Talent Shows

We have some talented people on the ship! From singers and piano players to dancers and beat poets, the talent show was full of highly entertaining performances. I even sang my heart out with my coworkers on the Communications Team!

But the crew is a whole different level of talented. Our crew represented their 20-plus countries well through acts like Indian dances, Philippine pop songs, other strange cross-dressing love songs, and storytelling from our much loved Caribbean dining crew.

72-Hour Film Fest

Teams of five people had 3 days to make a SAS-themed video for the whole community. It could be sad, funny, scary or provocative, as long as we fulfilled certain criteria (such as the use of the community theme “ubuntu” and the inclusion of elephant pants) and kept the videos under five minutes. The student union was packed during the night of the festival, where some films were deep and meaningful, and others were just hilarious.

Sea Olympics

This was the event that we had literally been anticipating for the entire voyage. Each hall on the ship is divided into seas, and during the Olympics we faced off against one another to achieve the status of sea gods. With classic games like tug-of-war and relay races, a lip sync / dance competition, a backwards spelling bee and other various water games, there was something for everyone from every sea – including the ship kids and lifelong learners – to participate in. My Caribbean Sea won second place (to Deck 3’s Bering Sea), and we were both surprised & pleased with our ability to organize ourselves. Go Pirates!

An image showing a water balloon toss during the Sea Olympics on the cruise ship.

A rocking ship took the water balloon toss to a whole new level at the Sea Olympics.

So despite the soppy weather in Mauritius, the long stretch at sea turned out to be refreshing. I found that I had more time to spend with friends that I hadn’t traveled with, caught up on the homework that didn’t get done in India, and enjoyed participating in these crazy community-building events that only come around once.

Meet the Class of 2014 on #Hoosfeatured, Part 3

The University of Virginia Class of 2014 Instagram account is profiling different members of the fourth-year class throughout the year, and they’ve got a number of new entries to show off.

The Class of 2014 Trustees sponsors the series, which showcases students involved in all different aspects of student life at U.Va.: the arts, student governance, athletics and more.

Take a look below, and click on the “Instagram” link in the top right corner of each image for more about the featured student. Don’t forget to check out parts  one and two as well.

Evan Dennis

Holly Mayton

Ese Shaw

Sean McGoey

Megan Reilly

Elijah Innes-Wimsatt

Camille Lorenzana

Nishant Shukla

Catherine Pearson

Blake Blaze

Digitizing Jefferson

Not all college jobs are created equal: second-year University of Virginia history student Taylor Krystkowiak works in the library’s Digital Curation Services and was recently part of a project that used digital imaging technology to reveal long-obscured words from Thomas Jefferson’s personal letters:

The project used a new multispectral scanner purchased with a grant from the Jefferson Trust, an initiative of the U. Va. Alumni Association, to re-digitize some of Jefferson’s correspondence and remove smudges and stains that had rendered parts illegible.

Enter the Spring 2014 Instagram Photo Contest


Spring is finally here and with it comes the Spring 2014 Instagram Photo Contest! To enter, tag your Instagram photo with #UVaPhotoContest and email your username to socialmedia@virginia.edu.

Professor John Edwin Mason, who selected the winner for the Fall 2013 contest, will serve as judge once again and announce the winner on May 5. 

Visit the contest site for complete rules, to see the submissions and, of course, learn about the prizes. Good luck!

Semester at Sea: India

Editor’s Note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is on Semester at Sea this spring and has agreed to blog about her experience. Catch up with her previous entries here.


When my SAS friend invited me to stay with some family friends she knew in Delhi, I jumped on the chance: a home stay + 70-degree weather + a visit to the Taj?! So though our ship ported at the southern tip of India, I spent most of my time 1,200 miles north, at India’s vast, bustling capital city and cultural headquarters.

At the risk of sounding like a tour guide, and although India is so much more than a monument, I can’t talk about my time in Delhi without talking about the Taj Mahal. After a three-hour drive up the highway from Delhi to Agra, you see this solitary, glowing white building jutting out of an empty plain, and before you’ve paid your entrance fee, you already understand why this giant gravestone is a world wonder.

Even up close, its gorgeousness doesn’t seem real. The walls contain all these intricate carvings of flowers and Arabic calligraphy, along with thousands of semi-precious stones arranged in patterns, and then you start to realize that everything about the building was created in perfect symmetry, centered around the underground tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife, Taj Mahal. Inside the mausoleum, visitors are stealing pictures with their smart phones (and trying to avoid the guards), while pigeons are flying in the dome above, their batting wings echoing against the marble walls. Even on a weekday, thousands of visitors stream through the doors of the Taj, here to get their weddings photos made, family reunions pictures, or just to be there, because there’s just nothing in India, or in the world, like it.

The Taj is an Islamic building, and because I’m taking a class on Islam, I had fun taking tons of pictures of all the Arabic writing inscribed in its walls and also in the architecture of other major monuments in the Agra and New Delhi area. The calligraphy contains verses of the Quran about death and the afterlife, so even though Shah Jahan built the Taj to commemorate his wife, he meant for the building serve as a warning to all visitors, to turn to God and the straight path of Islam before you die.


Clockwise from top left: a wall-hanging at a shop in Cochin, Arabic calligraphy outside the Taj, and more Arabic on the bricks outside the Qutab Minar in Delhi.

Though only 10 percent of India is Muslim, it’s still the second-largest Muslim country in the world because of its population – 1.4 billion people at the last census. Ninety percent practice Hinduism, but India is also a home of Sikhism and Jainism, as well as a small percentage of Jew and Christians. And yes, the McDonalds in India do not sell beef burgers.

Even outside the mall, you can find cows, goats, pigs, and monkeys roaming around Delhi. The locals had fun watching me take pictures.


Even outside the mall, you can find cows, goats, pigs, and monkeys roaming around Delhi. The locals had fun watching me take pictures.

Through my host family, I was surprised to learn that most middle-to-upper class homes keep servants (usually drivers and housemaids), and that India is exceptionally more patriarchal than I’d expected. My friend Dawn and I noticed that people in the airports, train stations or even walking the streets were predominantly men, and especially after eight or nine in the evening, you wouldn’t find a woman walking the streets alone. As two unescorted women, Dawn and I collected plenty of stares ourselves.

India is a huge, diverse country, and I know that during my days in the north and south in our port city of Cochin, I only caught a glimpse of it. Still, I came in with hardly a conception of what India would be like (aside from a few colorful scenes in Slumdog Millionaire), and I feel like I’ve learned so much about all the current issues facing the country, from gender relations and religion to commerce and environmental problems, through the conversations I had with local people in India and the discussions among friends and classmates back on the ship afterward. We students come back with different experiences. We’re excited about everything the country has and also genuinely concerned about its problems – how are they dealing with their shortages of clean water? Or universities? Do women feel oppressed, or valued for the different work expectations placed on them?

We mold our experiences into a dialogue and into a collective story. But by the time we’ve finished debriefing, it’s already time to pack, plan and mentally prepare for the next port! So now I’m here in my floating dorm room, finishing up an English paper and scanning WikiTravel for info on South Africa. Whether in-country or onboard, it’s hard to find a dull moment on SAS.